Today we celebrated the final 'SoundUp with Opera North' workshop by transforming the care home setting into a glittering Opera Gala.
To mark the end of our 'SoundUp with Opera North' workshop series we had a wonderful celebration of creativity, music and dance by bringing a very special participatory opera gala to two dementia care venues in Manchester.
Our reach this week:
10 musicians from the RNCM
1 Opera North artist
9 community volunteers and carers
Outline of the workshop
As participants entered and got settled into the space they were given an invitation to the 'SoundUp with Opera North' Gala, this allowed participants and musicians to introduce themselves, and started to bring people into the context of the space and build an understanding of what the session was about.
We started with a performance of 'Summertime' sung by Sarah and performed by Nat on the horn. This set the atmosphere of the session and marked the commencement of the workshop.
I then facilitated an introductory segment, introducing the opera gala theme, and inviting each musician to introduce themselves. We did an imagination exercise to set the scene of our opera gala; what the theatre looked like, the smells, sights, feel and sounds of the gala. We did a singing warmup connected to this, using lyrics related to getting ready to go to the opera. I asked for input from the participants as to how we would travel to the gala, with 'horse and carriage' being an immediate suggestion. Participants offered up wonderful answers to what we would drink at our gala including 'Gin and Tonic', 'A Pint' and 'Champagne!' When asked what they would drink we had similarly exotic responses 'Smoked Salmon', 'Roast Beef' and 'Canapés'.
We had enormous fun getting 'dressed up' for the gala in various hats, gloves, feather boas, and furs- all provided by the RNCM costume department. Many participants delighted at being able to try on various costumes and wore them throughout the session. There was lots of laughter, joking and playfulness as people modelled various costumes.
We then heard Dasha perform 'Oh Mio Babbino Caro' describing the character, context and meaning of what she was expressing.
After listening Dasha sing, we commented that she would have needed to warm up, and that if we were going to sing in some opera choruses that we should also warm up as a group. I asked the singers to share some vocal warm ups with us, which the participants then learned and echoed back, which was a fun and challenging segment.
We then heard a duet from Emily and Sarah, who performed 'We'll Gather Lilacs' as they sung we handed out prop flowers to each participant, which they held and swayed during the music. This was a lovely and calm section, with the flowers adding a nice tactile and visual stimulus to the participant's listening.
Jordan then sang 'Come Paride Vezzoso' from L'elisir d'Amore. This was a characterful and vibrant performance, in which Jordan 'wooed' several of the audience members with further bunches of flowers. Jordan brilliantly really involved himself with the participants, getting up close and interacting with people as he performed to great comic results.
We then had our first chorus sing along with the participants, revisiting our version of 'V'adoro Pupille' from week one's workshop on Giulio Cesare.
We then heard another solo performance from Naomi who sang 'Voi Che Sapete' by Mozart, describing the opera, character and circumstance of the piece.
We then looked at some costumes and props from the RNCM opera store, and dressed Hannah up in a flowing organza robe and silk hat. We discussed the use of costumes, wigs and makeup in opera to transform performers into different characters. We also put some stage makeup on Hannah, to complete her transformation into Eliza Doolittle.
Hannah then performed 'I could have danced all night' from My Fair Lady as she sang many participants moved and sang. We then repeated her chorus with everyone singing along, and many participants getting up to dance with facilitators, volunteers or each other.
We taught the participants a new chorus part, which is repeatedly sung by the maidens during Mabel's aria 'Poor Wandering One' in Pirates of Penzance. Once everyone had sung through the chorus part a few times, Ahlyssa performed Mabel's aria, and everyone joined in singing the chorus parts within the solo piece. This was a wonderful chance to sing together within a performance, and gave a great sense of group achievement.
We ended the session with a very special guest performance. Samantha Clarke, an alumni of the RNCM and the current Musetta in Opera North's production of La Boheme came and sung Musetta's showstopping aria 'Quando men vol' to celebrate the end of the workshop series. She described her character and what she was singing about, and even dressed up in costume using a feathered fan to bring the character to life. She was very immersive and interactive with the audience, singing at points to different participants. Her performance was so powerful that we had a participant burst into tears when she finished, feeling so overwhelmed by the special experience of seeing her perform so close-up. Many of the participants were attending the performance of La Boheme at the Lowry that evening, which Samantha was performing in.
We then brought the session to a close, thanking all the performers, volunteers and of course the participants for making the series such a joy.
As always, the musicians stayed for tea and coffee, answering participant's questions and collecting feedback.
We had wonderful participant feedback this week collected via written questionnaires but also given verbally and visually. A videographer from the RNCM conducted interviews with 6 participants after the session to include in a film about the project. This video will be available to view in December 2019.
'Pure gorgeousness. I wish you could come every week!'
Angela Luckett (Activities Coordinator) at Belong
Musicians were asked to give feedback on their experience of the project. Below are responses from those involved in the final workshop.
100% of respondents marked that they would 'definitely' want to volunteer/perform in a future workshop.
7/8 respondents scored 10/10 in answer to 'How effective did you feel the session was in promoting wellbeing amongst participants.'
1. How would you describe your experience as a performer in the session?
Singer 1: Very enjoyable and a fulfilling experience.
Singer 2: Fulfilling and extremely rewarding. You can tell it makes most of them extremely happy and they appreciate it.
Singer 3: Really enjoyable and fulfilling to work with the participants and help brighten their day.
Singer 4: Positive and welcoming.
Singer 5: Heart warming!
2. Was there a particular highlight in your session?
Singer 1: Seeing people's faces come to life and enjoying the music making, and generally interacting with the audience and having fun.
Singer 2: Dressing the audience up!
Singer 3: Talking to the participants, interacting.
Singer 4: People responses and individual engagements.
Singer 5: When the participants sang the chorus in my aria.
3. What did you feel worked well in your session?
Singer 1: Having music that allows the audience to be part of the song, eg: giving flowers to the audience, rather than just as props, so they are part of the action.
Singer 2: The general structure was really well planned out.
Singer 3: The opportunities for interaction, like getting the audience involved through singing and putting on the costumes.
Singer 4: Communication between participants and the audience, as well as people's emotional engagement.
Singer 5: Getting participants to sing along in the warmups
4. Was there any aspect of the session that you would do differently?
Singer 1: Have more ensembles pieces to have more of a scene. They are up close to the action then.
Singer 2: No, not at all. There isn't anything.
Singer 3: No.
Singer 4: No.
Singer 5: No.
5. Did you learn anything new or gain something from volunteering?
Singer 1: Seeing how different pieces can be used in a workshop environment- costumes, chorus numbers etc.
Singer 2: I learned that it's not as scary as you may anticipate it to be. This was a beautiful and rewarding project.
Singer 3: I learnt to interact with dementia patients and this helped me gain a lot of confidence. It was a really enjoyable experience.
Singer 4: Confidence and communication skills.
Singer 5: How to connect with people living with dementia.
Evaluation and Monitoring
This week an evaluator from Together Dementia Support interviewed 7 participants about their enjoyment of the workshop. 100% of respondents reported enjoying the workshop at a score of 10 out of 10.
SoundUp Arts collected qualitative and quantitative feedback from participants and the RNCM musicians across the project. Below is a summary of feedback across the four weeks:
49 participants gave feedback:
We collected scalic-ratings across the four weeks in answer to the following question:
Can you mark your enjoyment of the session from 1 to 10
Of 49 responses the results were as follows:
*35 participants marked 10 (with 3 marked higher than 10)
*6 participants marked 9
*2 participants marked 8
*1 participants marked 7
*5 participants did not respond
100% wanted to come to another session
This is a summary of some of the qualitative feedback collected across the four weeks. Each is a direct quote from a participant living with dementia.
How did you feel during and after the session?
*I had a great time
*Emotional in a good way
*Very peaceful voices
*Excited and very good
*Happy and joyful
*Transported into another world
*I feel very good I enjoyed it
*Elated, better at the end
*On a high!
*Quite emotional, peaceful and excited
*Very moved, something very moving about young girls singing
*Great fun, it lifted my mood
*Gets you out of the flat and mixing with people, it felt good!
*When I come here, before I'm down, as soon as I am here I'm so happy
*Very happy and impressed with the music
What was your favourite part of the session?
*All of it
*I feel like I can get up and perform with you
*It was absolutely perfect
*Remembering the good old songs from childhood
*Everything especially the love duet
*The Messiah piece, made me think of the people I sang it with long ago
*The costumes and singing
*All the singing by the group
*Wonderful quality of singing
*Listening to singers
*When I got up in the scene, and the horn
*When I acted out the guard
*Getting involved, the scarves and the instruments
* The plate game
*They like helping people
What would you say to people thinking of coming to a session?
*I'd tell them to come.
*Go along! Definitely!
*I would really recommend it, I think this is an experience everyone should have.
*Come! You will leave feeling uplifted!
*It's a good thing, if you are living on your own it helps.
*Please come! It's very interesting!
About the performers
It was wonderful to have such talented singers from the Royal Northern College of Music performing and facilitating in the session today, and this week we had a record number of volunteers with us. We were delighted to welcome Hannah Boxall, Naomi Rogers, Sarah Rowley, Dasha Papysheva, Jordan Harding Pointon and Emily Noon. We also were joined by Ranald McCusker on the piano and Nat Martin on the horn.
Every singer working on this project was trained by SoundUp Arts before the workshop, taken through a 2 hour Music Facilitation for People With Dementia training course.
We were also delighted to have a special star guest Samantha Clarke (an alumni of the RNCM) join us to sing an aria from her role as Musetta with Opera North.
I would like to say again a huge thank you to the singers, musicians, volunteers, care staff, venues, and participants who all made the workshop so special. This project relies on so many people's contributions, and it's success is certainly due to the generosity, kindness and openness of all the people involved in this project. And another huge thank you to Opera North, The Royal Northern College of Music and Together Dementia Support whose partnerships have made this workshop series possible.